It will be tense, nervous and, if history is anything to go by, very, very tight.
If Sheffield United or Swindon Town are to be competing at Championship level next season, they must achieve promotion the hard way having finished fifth and fourth in the League One table this term.
The play-offs are a test of character for footballers, managers, coaching staff and supporters alike. But, in an effort to enhance their enjoyment, The Star has compiled some facts and figures pertinent to both this evening’s encounter, Monday’s return leg and the tournament as a whole.
AWAY GOALS: Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough has reminded his team not to panic if they fall behind tonight. And for good reason too. The away goals rule was abolished in play-off competition at the beginning of 2000/01 season following a campaign by David Sheepshanks, then chairman of Ipswich Town. If the aggregate score is still deadlocked following the end of Monday’s return at the County Ground, the tie will enter extra-time and, possibly, penalties.
THE REFEREES: Darren Bond, from Lancashire, will take charge of the first leg while Keith Hill, who is based in Hertfordshire, has been confirmed as the man-in-the-middle on Monday evening. Bond averages 2.6 cautions per game this season while Hill boasts a figure of 3.5. Since Football League competition resumed in August, they have dismissed five and four players respectively.
PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: Sheffield United have been involved in seven play-off campaigns while this will be also be Swindon Town’s eighth taste of the end of season knockouts. United have yet to taste success but fellow contenders Preston North End, who missed out on automatic promotion last weekend, hold the record for the most failed attempts which is 10.
PAST RECORD: This will be the 34th competitive meeting between Sheffield United and Swindon Town. Tonight’s hosts have won 15, the visitors 10 while eight have ended in a draw. The most goals scored in a fixture involving the two clubs is seven when Swindon triumphed 5-2 in 1981 and 2014.
ATTENDANCES: The biggest crowd to watch a League One play-off encounter is 76,935 That was when Manchester City faced Gillingham in 1999. United’s average league attendance at home this term is 19,805. Swindon Town’s average gate during the present campaign is 7,940.
WEMBLEY: Both Sheffield United and Swindon Town will be confident of qualifying for the League One showpiece on May 24.The match kicks-off at 17.30 with the last train from London to Sheffield advertised as leaving St Pancras at 20.19. The 22.19, according to the National Rail Journey Planner website, does not arrive until 06.08 the next day. If Swindon prevail, their supporters can not afford to miss the 23.37 service which departs Paddington.